A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December

Arriving at Bako National Park

After breakfast and a swim in the cold mountain stream fed pool it’s time to farewell Permai Rainforest Resort. Truth be told it isn’t really a resort because it just doesn’t have any resort facilities. There is a cafe with very limited menu and half is westernized food. There is kayak hire on the small beach but and high ropes courses but that’s about it. The cabins are fairly run down but that’s to be expected given it is 20 years old.

In its favor is its footprint and that it’s a good jumping off point to climb Mt Santuobong, and visit the cultural village. It was probably before it’s time in eco development because aside from the foundations of each cabin no forest has been cleared. Even the pathways wind awkwardly around existing trees. It’s very quiet and you feel totally immersed in the rainforest and it’s sounds. We saw a troupe of different monkeys today who threw branches at us as a warning and a beautiful black striped squirrel. Five star travelers wouldn’t like it, but I loved it and so did the kids. Huge discounts for staying during the week.

AJ the minivan guy came to pick us up to drive us to the dock from where boats depart for Bako. Even though i was tired and not in the mood for talking I quickly found out he’s more than just a bus driver. He is from the bidduyuh people who still live a simple village life around two and a half hours from Kuching by 4wd close to the border with Indonesia. His people wear the brass rings on the arms and ankles during ceremonial times and live a simple life tapping rubber, selling fruit and a little palm oil. Instead of clearing the forest he tells me they plant desirable trees inside the forest. He is passionately against clear felling and talks of how unnatural it is to have proboscis monkeys and orang utan living together but it happens because palm oil plantation and clear felling forces them into tiny strips of native land. Married to an Iban he tells of the ancient custom of taking heads in preparation for planting new ground. If the planting fails another head has to be taken. He says some heads were taken in 2003 in Indonesia. His grandfather is 90.

At the launching point for Bako we tee up two boatmen as the park can only be reached by sea. There are crocodile warning signs at the jetty but the croc skull near the registration desk drove home the point a little better. Im impressed by the skill of the men in their 12 foot wooden boats as we head out to sea. We pass wooden structures built free standing in the water used to net fish. The ferrymen dodge the waves and gun the engine to cross the next one before it peaks. The boat slams into the trough and the kids squeal. Partly with excitement but i can tell they’re a bit worried.

We arrive at Bako’s jetty having timed our arrival for high tide. Arriving at low tide involves being dropped on the beach in waist high water – something we wanted to avoid with a heavy pack on. As the song says we don’t pay the ferryman until he gets us to the other side and definitely not until we get his number – unless you prearrange pick up you can’t get out.

We toss our gear into the pretty rough Semi-detached B cabin. One side the boys sleep in the other Abbey and I. There is no hot water for showers. And the tap on the boys sink is non existent. Good way to save on water I guess. There is no toilet paper and the ball float in the open cistern doesn’t work so I manually fill the cistern and pull a rusty wire to flush it.

We are warned of a few dangers namely falling coconuts, pit vipers and bad ass macaques who act like the local mafia. Apparently it’s the one you don’t see that does the damage (pinching food, phones, drinks and general stand-over tactics).

We sit at the cafe trying to find some shade and water and are amazed to see the elusive Proboscis monkeys swinging across the path so i dash down and sneak up for a photo. These monkeys are a tan orange color and fairly solidly built. One of the guides says their bum looks like a woman in a G String. As the name suggests, these monkeys which are only readily seen in two places in East Malaysia have a huge nose. The smaller ones have pointy pink Pinocchio noses and have obviously told a few lies but the big males end up with a pink Fred Flintstone phallic honker and this apparently really gets the girls.

The bearded pig is akin to the circus bearded lady – its ugly but you can’t look away. Even the sows had pretty impressive wiry Abe Lincoln beards going on, each one followed about by a handful of small coffee colored striped piglets. I tell the kids not to upset the piglets as that is the only thing that would make a sow a danger.

Laundry has been a disaster for me. I still can’t dry anything and the clothes go musty and stink overnight. I make the kids re-wash their clothes in buckets with mushy soap found in the bathroom but I help with the wringing because they’re not strong enough. We hang them outside wondering if the mafia steal clothes as well. One sniffs Abbeys shoe and makes to grab my T Shirt so I scare him off.

We lie down under the fans and sleep in the hottest part of the day. I’m over undies as they’re impossible to dry plus i’ve run out so I’ve decided to go native and sleep in the buff. It seems the proper thing to do.

After tea we gather a dozen of us for the Night Safari. Guides direct us down the path – a dozen head lamps strobing the night sky. The kids are particularly annoying when they fully blind you. We stop at the mangroves and turn off all lights and out of the dark emerge the blinking lights of fireflies in a tree. We are mesmerized. Each fire fly going about his own business but collectively they Christmas decorate the whole tree. I wanted to stay longer but we were moving again this time down the beach.

In my left ear the sound of the jungle, cicadas and crickets and in my right ear the south china sea breaking on the gently sloping beach sounding a little irritable due to the increasing wind which tells me rain is approaching.

The guide stops and searches a particular tree until his light illuminates a particularly venomous green pit viper coiled on a branch. He explains it is hunting and we can get closer for a photo but not too close. How far can it strike I ask. “About half” he says. Half it’s length? Half a metre he answers. I move in fairly unconcerned and take some snaps. I’m wary of snakes but not scared.

We continue on, and are swallowed by the jungle and become immersed in it and the blackness. Sound seems amplified and an orchestra of insects and frogs play for us. We stop again and turn off lights. Something glows on the ground ahead, and under the slippery boardwalk. Bio luminescent tiny white fungi light up on the forest floor.

At the first spits no-one reacts but I haven’t experienced a shower here that remained a few spits so I haul out the umbrella for Abbey and goretex jacket for me. The boys get drenched because they didn’t bring theirs. I figure they’re old enough to think ahead or experience the consequences. The guides take us to a cave in which we shelter. Inside they scan around and mention that they often see black cobra in here at night. I look around too.

As the rain lightens it fools us into emerging to make a dash back to the cabins and redoubles its efforts. Water is running down the muddy tree root tangled trail and deep puddles are appearing which is a bitch because for the first day in the last four, I managed to dry my shoes. Frog calls swelled as we trudged back heads down rain running off my jacket soaking my pants. The guides kept their eyes out and despite the downpour stopped and using a stick, picked up a five inch long scorpion. I’m not sure if it was just the light of the guides torch or whether it really was green and purple in color.

The jungle experience was surreal for me. The stillness, darkness, the sheer volume of the chirping, whirring, piercing frequencies were all strange and new. To feel like I was not just in it, but inside the jungle and hunting for nightlife was exciting as it always is when I go spotlight shooting vermin in Australia.


2 responses to “Arriving at Bako National Park

  1. Andrew Hillier December 7, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Hi guys, what an amazing experience, I want to be be there !!!

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